Flores, Tikal and Rio Dulce

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

The next stop of note was over to Guatemala to see a few parts that we hadn't seen before. Nic and I were actually in Guatemala 3 years ago as we started our honeymoon here and covered the rest of Central America to the east and south, finishing in Costa Rica that time. This time, we wanted to cover the north half hence we started from Mexico and worked our way south and around. We were quite looking forward to seeing Antigua again and Guatemala is generally a pretty cool place to go.

From Belize, we made our way over the land border to Guatemala but on getting over to the Guatemalan side, we were told by our leader that there would be an informal border tax when we got through the immigration desk. This amounts to a bribe that the border control get for themselves. There’s no sign around saying that such a border tax exists, it’s just asked for and paid. Some of our group got charged 10 Qetzales and some charged 20 (which is the equivalent of a few bucks). Not that it’s going to break the bank but enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not the best first impression of Guatemala, "Welcome to Guatemala, here’s some corruption to start you off with."

Anyway, we got to Flores a few hours later which is a very small island town on Lago Peten Itza (Lago is a lake). The lake is named after the people of Chichen Itza. When they were expelled from Chichen Itza, they had to go somewhere and this area was as good as any. There’s more to it than that but I’ll force you to do your own research on Google. You can walk around the circumference of the town of Flores in 20 minutes, and that’s at a leisurely stroll. It’s interesting that we are told that the nearby town of Santa Elena is a place that we should not be going to at night because there is a “macho” culture here where guys are happy to walk around town with weapons holstered in plain sight. Perhaps winning a game of pool against a local could result in a hairy situation. Better keep my awesome pool skills (those of you who have played pool with me know that I have none) to myself. The lure of some fast food does take me over to the other side though, but we don’t go to the town proper. Just to Pollo Campero, a fast food chicken franchise that’s around Central America. I am a big fan of this place. It’s fast food, but they do table service.

Flores is a common town for people to base themselves for the archaeological site of Tikal. We would start very, very early the next day to get to Tikal before it really got busy. Tikal is a little different to the other Mayan sites we visited in that the distances from one stone structure to another are vast and in between, there is dense rainforest where you can hear the sounds of howler monkeys or see any number of birds and wildlife. I don’t know one bird from another because I’m not a “birder”. Birders are an entirely different and “special” breed of traveller. You’ll normally find a birder with massive telescopes or binoculars, necks craning upwards and making weird bird noises which I don’t think sound like the bird at all. They are also prone to stopping mid track and saying stuff like, “Did you hear that, I think it was a puffy chested green legged something or other”. I normally greet such exclamations with, “We’d better keep moving, I’d hate to get left behind (alone with you).”

At Tikal, there are some seriously steep ruins, some you can climb up on your own, some that have rickety wooden ladder-step things and others that you can’t climb up anymore because some silly tourist fell to their deaths there and ruined it for the rest of us. The Gran Plaza which has the impressive Templo del Gran Jaguar and other structures. They’re still uncovering ruins but that takes time, lots of money and plenty of people with the expertise to do these excavations properly. In jungle like this, it’s also a challenge to maintain these structures after they have been restored because aggressive jungle growth is always just around the corner. For those who have or haven't been to ruins, be they Mayan, the temples of Ankor or ruins in Thailand, I’ve got some pictures to give you an idea of what a ruin looks like when it’s first discovered and what it looks like after the archaeologists painstakingly remove all the growth and dirt, then number all of the stones then set to re-create it based on what they know. This is a serious undertaking of work and commitment and something that many tourists (myself included) can fall into the habit of forgetting. We go up there, take a few pictures for Facebook, poke around, then climb back down and complain that the steps were too slippery or that it looks a little unsafe up there or there wasn’t enough room for everyone to fit.

Come to Tikal, look around and be prepared to walk around lots. Bring some good shoes, lots of water and your telescopes – if you’re a birder, just get your telescope out of my face. J

Our next stop was Rio Dulce where we stayed in a really cool place called El Tortugal (the turtle or tortoise). Nic and I spent our time here just having some downtime, catching up on some reading, doing some blogging and eating some good food that they prepared here. El Tortugal is more of a base for yachties who come in to spend some time on dry land. The place is really well run by an American couple and has things like purified water, hot showers, great and affordable dining and really cool accommodation as well. They even have free kayaks that we made use of.

The next blog will be from our homestay, where we get to learn some Mayan phrases and see one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, Lago Atitlan. Nicole and I get re-introduced to the beloved chicken busses that make travelling so interesting in Guatemala.
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